Courses of Instruction

Cabbages and Kings

"What courses are you taking this year?"

"Well, uh,..."

Stop right there. Talking at Harvard is not what it was at old Central High. There you talked just when you felt like saying something. Here talking is a tool and a weapon. Your courses are not a handful of cards, to be slapped down face up and turned for chips. Rather, like the calves of a Victorian lady, they are to be displayed to the vulgar view only at the most propitious moment, and then only after suitable preparatory skirmishes.

You were going to say:

"...uh, Humanities 5, Nat Sci 6, and, uh,...gee, I can't remember what else."


Surely there are more discrete ways of airing the green knee of inexperience. Let's try again.

"What courses are you taking this year?"

Don't rush. Look up from your copy of Theories of Arcana in the Early Renaissance and stroke the goatee you had been contemplating growing.

"It's funny you should ask me that." A silence falls around you. "Just this morning Mr. Purcell..." Not "Professor Purcell, the Nobel Prize winner." Not "Eddie Purcell." Mister Purcell.

"...was trying to persuade me not to bother with 243."

Across the table, there is a hurried, whispered huddle.

"What 243?"

"Physics 243, quantum theory."

"What's that?"

"Advanced physics, see."